COVID-19: Rep. Pressley Urges Massachusetts Gov to Release Vulnerable Inmates

Their letter follows a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in prisons and jails across the Commonwealth.
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Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker urging him to protect the lives of incarcerated individuals in Massachusetts and immediately decarcerate older individuals, individuals with preexisting medical conditions, juveniles, pregnant individuals, and those with less than a year remaining on their sentence.

Their letter follows a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in prisons and jails across the Commonwealth.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has manifested unprecedented challenges to the health and wellbeing of communities throughout the Commonwealth, including our neighbors and loved ones behind the wall,” wrote Pressley and Rollins in their letter. “As Governor, you have significant authority to limit the deadly spread of COVD-19 and reduce the prison population before it is too late.”

Individuals who are incarcerated as well as prison officers and staff are not immune from the ongoing pandemic, and prisons and jails are petri dishes for COVID-19 spread. Although CDC guidelines encourage physical distancing, sanitary practices, and access to medical professionals, corrections and detention facilities are largely overcrowded, unsanitary, and limited in healthcare. Recent data show that ten people have died and over a thousand people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Massachusetts prisons and jails—with two outbreaks reported at facilities in October alone—despite the fact that facilities have been locked down for more than six months.

In their letter, Congresswoman Pressley and District Attorney Rollins called on Governor Baker to heed the advice of public health experts and—in the interest of public health—release these incarcerated individuals back to their families and loved ones before it is too late. Pressley and Rollins noted that the Governor has the clemency and emergency authority to decarcerate unilaterally, and urged him to follow the example of states like New Jersey, which demonstrated last week that it is possible to decarcerate for public health by releasing more than 2,000 people and making plans to release at least 1,000 more.

“We cannot pick and choose who among us is deserving of being saved but, instead, we must prioritize the safety and wellbeing of as many people as possible,” they continued in their letter. “A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has found that the failure to aggressively decarcerate and reduce the incarcerated population could add 100,000 fatalities to our nation’s overall death count ─ among people both in and outside of jail. It is clear, you have a moral and legal obligation to care for the wellbeing of those who are incarcerated while they are in state custody.”

Since the beginning of the public health pandemic, public health experts as well as local, state, and federal policymakers have called for decisive action to reduce prison and jail populations due to COVID-19.

In May, Congresswoman Pressley led her Congressional colleagues in calling on Governor Baker and governors across the country to decarcerate amid rising COVID-19 infections and deaths in state correctional facilities.

In June, Congresswoman Pressley, alongside Representatives Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), introduced the Dismantle Mass Incarceration for Public Health Act to incentivize states, like Massachusetts, to take common sense steps in order to prevent unnecessary exposure to and spread of COVID-19.

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